Let me fly my colors clearly from the beginning. I believe that while the Bible is clear that bring drunk is a sin (Eph 5:18), having a drink of alcohol is not (necessarily) sinful. I say ‘necessarily’ because there are times when it could be sinful to drink without getting drunk –
- deciding to drink in front of other Christians who would stumble in their faith to see you drink (Rom 14:21);
- drinking when you have a known problem or past problem with alcohol (1 Cor 6:12);
- drinking simply to gain acceptance from some group of people (Prov 29:25);
That being said, I have made the choice to abstain from alcohol. Given the enormous problem alcoholism is in my cultural context as well as the way alcohol is made – with the express intention to get one drunk (i.e. it’s not wine like in the New Testament!) – it’s wise for me not to drink (1 Cor 9:22-23). I do not expect everyone to come to same conclusion. And as long as it’s not done in a sinful way (see above), then I would have no problem with someone drinking.
My problem in all of this is wondering when drinking become cool for young(er) Christians? Drinking (not drunkenness) has moved from being a matter of conscience to being a standard of coolness among us somewhere in the last couple of years. Now, it’s not enough to exercise one’s liberty to drink; now it has to be waved in everyone’s face. “Look we drink at our church! We’re cool!” It seems like more and more I hear great, missional speakers drop in some unnecessary reference to drinking.
The problem with all of this goes back to my reasons for not drinking – the amazingly amount of alcoholics and recovering alcoholics in our culture today. In my opinion, open, public, in-your-face support of alcohol hinders ministry.
For example, I just finished reading through Jonathan Dodson’s book, Fight Clubs: Gospel-Centered Discipleship. Overall, a tremendously helpful book! I’m thankful it was written, and even have my own fight club starting soon. But twice in the book he makes of a point of talking about alcohol at church-related events. First there is the pastor who had beer at his daughter’s birthday party, and then there are some fight clubs meeting in bars. For that reason, I don’t think I’ll be able to handout copies of this book at my church.
Let me say it again: this doesn’t have to do with alcohol per se. I’ve made my views (again, see above) clear to my church. The problem is, how do I hand this book to a recovering alcoholic, new-Christian and not have this be an issue for him? In all seriousness, I might just lack the wisdom to do so, but I can’t see how to do it without causing a problem for him. Furthermore, I don’t think it adds anything to the actual book! It seems like an unnecessary distraction from an otherwise great discipeship tool.
My point in all of this is simply to say, ‘Yes, we get it – Christians can drink without getting drunk. Can we move on now, and not be a stumbling block to those inside and outside the church?’
How can declaring ones freedom be a stumbling block to those inside and outside the church?
They declare it every chance they get I believe because when you find that you are free in something, it feels so good, that it tends to be stressed over and over. For so many years the church has stressed convictions not found in scripture. When someone gets back to the Bible literally, studying, finding freedoms where they were taught restrictions, they tend to jump up and down and shout about it.
Nice post, John. Here’s a little story about the guys you are talking about.
I was helping out with a church’s youth camp one summer, and as I was sitting in the counselors’ cabin drinking a coke and eating some chips (or something), one of the other counselors was talking his buddy and said, “Man, I need a beer and a cigar.” This guy was obviously, one of the guys you described above who has to wave it in people’s faces that he wasn’t a “legalist” and had “freedom in Christ” to do so. Leaving that problem and the fact that he was at a youth camp where the teenagers DO NOT have the freedom to partake in such aside (although they are huge), the other problem was this was ONE DAY into the youth camp, and if this guy “needed” a beer and cigar, he has a serious addiction problem — another side effect of people practicing this kind of “freedom in Christ.” I think it’s actually putting more and more of them in bondage than anyone cares to admit . . .
I’m not being sarcastic, but have you read Romans 14? 1 Corinthians 8-9? Proclaiming one’s freedom was a very big deal and it caused problems. Paul’s argument is very much ‘Just because you are free to do something doesn’t mean you always should. Love says if your freedom causes someone to stumble then you give up your freedom.’
D. A. Carson gave an excellent talk on this via 1 Corinthians 9 (at the Gospel Coalition conference, I believe). And he made the important distinction between legalists and weaker brothers. He said he would not give up his freedom for the legalists who want to – more or less – bully people into their personal standards. But for the weaker brother who genuinely will be causes to stumble because he has not come to grasp his freedom and sees certain activities as sinful, then we should be willing to forgo our freedom out of love for him.
So Paul, talking about meat offered to idols says –
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Cor 8:7-13)
This of course, should also be true for those outside the church as well so that this love/freedom issue also has a missional aspect as well –
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Cor 9:19-23)
Thanks for the story – definitely two problems going on there! But for this post, yes he might have freedom to do those things, but why make such a big deal about it when it’s still such a hot-button issue in our culture?
John: To teach or talk about freedoms that we have is not a stumbling block. That is not what the scripture is talking about if you read all of Romans 14 for example. If giving up our freedoms was the crux of the Bible message, then we as Americans and Christians should give up our freedoms that offend the lost in other countries of the world such as Muslims for example.
Now would I drink in front of someone who thought it was a sin to drink? Probably not. Would I stop drinking completely because someone thinks it is sin? Probably not. Would I stop going to movies or dancing because someone thought it was a sin? Probably not. Would I hide that I do have a drink, go to movies or even dance? Probably not. According to Paul it’s the one who thinks these things are sin for everyone that is the weaker brother and I don’t think we should keep everyone weak. I don’t think that is what Paul is saying at all.
“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.  For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.  So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.  Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.  It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble . . . . We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  For Christ did not please himself.” (Romans 14:15-21; 15:1-3)
No offense, Debbie, but how could Paul be more clear? If I’m wrong, then please give me your interpretation of the text.
Scripture interprets scripture John. Reconcile that with Romans 14 and you will have the proper interpretation. As I said, I don’t think we need to flaunt our freedoms in front of those who are against it. But there are those who think a paid pastor is sin, being rich is sin, watching TV is sin. I don’t plan on giving up any of those things in order for someone not to be offended. If I did that, I would have no freedom to do anything. There are those who think Christmas trees are wrong. Am I not to have a Christmas tree because someone or someones are offended and might fall? Where does it end?
Scripture interprets scripture John. Reconcile that with Romans 14 and you will have the proper interpretation.
As I said earlier, I believe I have the right interpretation. Why not explain your view of this text?
Debbie, who are these people “who think a paid pastor is sin, being rich is sin, watching TV is sin”? Do they have Scripture that supports their view? I believe that the passages in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 & 9 were referring to meat offered to idols and unclean foods as laid out in Scripture.
Clearly, a paid pastor, being rich and watching television is not prohibited by Scripture. There are some principles, however, that we can glean that would keep you from watching certain movies, viewing certain websites or watching certain television programs.
I remember as a young adult being asked at a meal if I would be offended if alcohol was consumed. This man was practicing what was laid out in Scripture. If a brother or sister came to my house and was offended by a program on tv, I would turn it off. I would then discuss with them their convictions for being offended and I would discuss mine as well with Scripture backing it up. If a brother was offended by my Christmas tree, I would suggest we move to another part of the house or go somewhere else. We could then discuss the problem. Simple as that.
Romans 14:19 tells us, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” We need to edify one another and strive for peace.
I hope that I can add my two cents to help solve this debate.
I think the problem is that John and Debbie are talking about two different types of people. Debbie is correct to say that if a believer limits his freedom every time someone disagrees, he has no freedom making Paul’s discussion in Romans irrelevant.
Debbie is talking about legalistic, Pharisee types. As John points out, DA Carson makes a distinction between legalists and weak brothers. One does not have to limit his freedom for a legalist, but he must limit his freedom for weaker brothers. For example, when I was in Bible college, a fellow student who was a local pastor told another male student he should not have an earring and that he must take it out because it offends him. My pastor friend is obviously in the wrong. One can safely assume this pastor is not weak in the faith (if he is, there are more problems than legalism) by virtue of being a pastor. This brother was under no obligation to remove his earring for the sake of his brother. The key is the words weak in the faith. We have no obligation to limit our freedom for these people.
John is talking about people who rightly enjoy their freedom in Christ, yet they wrongly flaunt it in a manner that could cause those who are truly weak in the faith to stumble. This is exactly the point Paul was making in Romans 14. John’s advice to those who are flaunting are exactly in line with Paul’s advice: The faith which you have, have as you own conviction before God (Rom. 14:22).
Let us enjoy our freedom in Christ and love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Seeking His Kingdom
Well said, Jeremy. Thanks for stopping by. Blessings!
Thanks for your warm review of my book and genuine pastoral concern regarding alcohol. I share your concern as we live in the hardest drinking city in America and have seen considerable damage among disciples due to the abuse of alcohol. The book is not laudatory when it comes to alcohol. I believe you’ve misread my book and it’s intention when I mention alcohol. And it grieves me that you would not use it in your church because of these instances. So, allow me to humbly correct your reading:
1) The first mention of alcohol is not at a church-related event. It is at a birthday party. The reason I mention alcohol is redemptive, not to be cool. The general point is that a guy who had a lot of beer at his daughter’s bday party, was burned by legalism, was distant from Jesus, and further from the church, is now a someone who is living a gospel-centered life in community and on mission! Why should we edit “excesses” from our redemption stories, when they demonstrate how redemptive God’s grace really is?
The benefit of including this story is to show how redemptive and missional Fight Clubs can be because the offer the hope of a gospel-driven community over the burden of a legalistic Christian community.
2) The second mention isn’t even of alcohol but of a bar, in a sentence with a lot of other places that people meet for Fight Club! It was simply a statement of fact: “People started meeting all over the city to fight the fight of faith during the week, in bars, coffee shops, and homes.” Could it be your biased lens that led to a misreading of my book?
To clarify, many people have to fight the fight of faith against addiction to alcohol, even in our church. I am for this fight, especially when it is done in the strength and hope of the Gospel. People who fight this fight don’t meet in bars; they meet in coffee shops or in homes. So again, these are redemptive instances, not superfluous attempts to be cool. I hope you’ll reconsider your critique, and more importantly, giving this resource to others, for the sake of the Gospel!
With you in Jesus,
Thanks for stopping by and offering a comment on my blog!
Let me first say that looking back at my post, I can see where I put undue emphasis on the book’s approach to alcohol. My intention was not so much to say “Dodson is for drinking” as much as to say what I read was another example of a long line of younger, more missionally-minded Christians (many of whom I admire!) making a point of mentioning drinking alcohol for no other apparent reason than to say “we’re different; not prudish, but cool.”
Because the references in Fight Clubs seemed like they were dropped in as casual references, not essential to the point, I misread you to be doing the same thing. If your intention was not to simply play the “cool card” with reference to alcohol, then I’m sorry for characterizing you that way.
You also ask if my bias caused me to misread the book. It’s certainly possible! If you say bar, I think alcohol. Maybe that is not the case everywhere. But where I live no one goes to bars except to drink. So in my mind, if the fight club was meeting in a bar, they were drinking.
In regards to the other reference, you say, “The general point is that a guy who had a lot of beer at his daughter’s bday party, was burned by legalism, was distant from Jesus, and further from the church, is now a someone who is living a gospel-centered life in community and on mission.” Even re-reading the section, this was not immediately clear to me. Certainly, it was clear that God used the new Christian community to get him seriously committed to the gospel. But I would not have drawn the connections between drinking and legalism as clearly as you intended.
Again, this could just be me. But I guess I would ask, ‘Could there be an assumption that everyone who is against drinking is a legalist?’ As I said in the post, I want to be clear that the issue for me isn’t inherently drinking alcohol. Rather, it’s the way it’s often portrayed in Christian books. Somehow alcohol becomes a standard for coolness and freedom from legalism. This is what I find confounding and irritating. It’s fine if you can drink without getting drunk (really!). But surely we can do better than that as a marker for legalism? I know fine Christians who are convinced for various biblical reason that drinking just isn’t a good choice for Christians in today’s alcohol-driven culture. And they are definitely not legalists in any way.
Finally, you ask the question, “Why should we edit ‘excesses’ from our redemption stories, when they demonstrate how redemptive God’s grace really is?” The context for my first fight club is two recovering alcoholics; one just three weeks out of rehab. Both of these men are also new Christians. So I would answer the questions this way – If the excesses can be shared in a context that builds up and edifies, then share away. But to talk about excesses where they will not be understood by immature Christians who struggle with specific issues, then I would say pick DIFFERENT excesses to share with them!
In the end, let me again say that I think the book is an excellent work. In particular the way you lay out the failures of bare accountability apart of active gospel-driven fighting against sin. I have handed those sections out and made great use of them. I appreciate your comments and will rethink using the entire thing at some point in future fight clubs.